Before a captive audience of wildlife experts and students, and with video cameras in the foreground recording the moment, a fisher scampers from a carrier into the wilderness at Mount Rainier National Park. (Courtesy photo)
Before a captive audience of wildlife experts and students, and with video cameras in the foreground recording the moment, a fisher scampers from a carrier into the wilderness at Mount Rainier National Park. (Courtesy photo)
By Pat Jenkins
The Dispatch
Ten fishers that by now may have grown in number are nearing the one-year anniversary of their release in the Nisqually River watershed of Mount Rainier National Park as part of an effort to restore the species in Washington.
Fishers, a cat-size member of the weasel family, were eliminated from Washington by the mid-1900s through human pressure. Over-trapping and lost habitat loss resulted in the fisher being listed as a state-endangered species in 1998.
Four females and six males were released in late-November last year near Mount Rainier after being captured in British Columbia during a multi-year project to reintroduce 80 fishers to the southern Cascades. They were examined by veterinarians, equipped with radio transmitters to allow biologists to track their movements, and then sent on their way.
The reintroduction was coordinated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the National Park Service and Conservation Northwest. In 2015, the partnership helped release 23 fishers (11 females and 12 males) in the southern Cascades and Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Releases in the northern Cascades are being planned.
Representatives from the Nisqually Tribe and three other Washington and British Columbia tribes participated in the Mount Rainier release, which was “inspiring" to Randy King, superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park.
"It was an honor to have the Nisqually and Cowlitz tribes, the Canadian Chilcotin and Northern Shuswap First Nations (of B.C.) and their blessings and songs," King said.
WDFW and the National Park Service are coordinating the monitoring of the  reintroduced fishers. Conservation Northwest is supporting the monitoring with volunteers and remote cameras.
From 2008 to 2010, the agencies teamed to release 90 fishers in Olympic National Park. Monitoring of that group has shown that the released animals have spread throughout the Olympic Peninsula and have reproduced, officials said.
The first reindtroduction of the animal into the Cascade environs was accomplished Dec. 3, 2015 at the Cispus Learning Center in Randle.
The fisher, the fifth-largest member of the weasel family, exists only in North America. An adult fisher is about the size and weight of a house cat (eight to 12 pounds), with a bushy tail, short, rounded ears, and short legs. They were believed to be the only native carnivore that was absent from the Cascade range in Washington.
Hannah Anderson, WDFW's listing and recovery manager, said fisher “enthusiasts” are working for a “more robust natural balance with the introduction of these animals in Washington."
Fishers are related to minks and otters and are native to the forests of Washington, including the Cascade mountain range. The elusive carnivore preys on small mammals – mountain beavers, squirrels and snowshoe hares – and it is one of the few predators of porcupines.
"Mount Rainier is an icon of the Pacific Northwest, and our region is wilder and healthier with the return of the fisher," said Mitch Friedman, executive sirector of Conservation Northwest.
Re-establishing viable populations of fishers in the Olympic and Cascade mountains are important steps to “down-listing” the endangered status of the species, Friedman noted.